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By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The full amount of non-defense spending pledged to Democrats last week in a two-year budget deal will be appropriated, a senior Republican in the U.S. Congress told Reuters on Tuesday, despite White House suggestions to the contrary.
Just days after the $300 billion budget deal was enacted into law amid hopes that it would calm Washington’s turbulent fiscal infighting, the Trump administration and some Republican lawmakers were clashing over its terms.
House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, asked whether his panel was writing legislation to fully fund the $131 billion non-defense increase included in the deal, said: “I would expect so, yes.”
A Senate Republican aide, who asked not to be identified, echoed Frelinghuysen, saying the Senate Appropriations Committee was working along similar lines.
Their comments followed calls by White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney to pare back increased spending on non-defense programs. Those promised increases were central to winning the support of Democrats for the deal, which also included large defense spending increases.
Mulvaney, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, squarely backs the $165 billion defense increase contemplated for fiscal 2018 and 2019. But he and many conservatives in Congress were indignant over the $131 billion non-defense component of the deal.
In a Fox News interview on Sunday, Mulvaney said: “These are spending caps ... they are not spending floors. You don’t have to spend all that.”
The deal, which Trump signed into law, was painstakingly negotiated over several months by Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House.
Trump and the Republicans demanded significant increases in defense spending. Democrats refused to go along without higher spending for non-defense programs as well, ranging from healthcare to infrastructure.
Without both, there would have been no agreement to break a long deadlock. Even so, some lawmakers balked at the large deficit spending needed to pay for the deal.
Congress now has a March 23 deadline for executing the deal to fund thousands of federal programs through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2018.
When the deal was approved last week, lawmakers hoped it would end partisan standoffs that led to a three-day government shutdown in January and hours-long one earlier this month.
But with Mulvaney signaling that the administration may be backing away from the pact, the outlook was unclear.
Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass upcoming appropriations bills, would not likely support shortchanging non-defense programs while allowing a big military buildup. (Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)